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More RFID privacy concerns surface in Rhode Island

There must be something in the water in New England. After New Hampshire passed a bill limiting the use of RFID earlier this month, now there is a proposal to restrict the use of RFID in Rhode Island.

Following New Hampshire’s bid to limit the use of RFID in that state (the N.H. Senate still needs to rule on the bill and will likely reject it), the Rhode Island General Assembly overturned its Governor’s veto on Monday and approved a series of bills designed to protect civil liberties issues, including one that restricts the use of RFID at public schools. The bill also is also designed to protect the privacy of drivers who use the state’s E-ZPass toll system.

Some of this RFID legislation is getting a bit ridiculous. The Rhode Island situation appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to a 2008 bid by the Middletown school district in Rhode Island to use RFID tags on students back packs in an attempt to verify that elementary school students boarded the right school bus. RFID, if explained thoughtfully and in a well-educated manner to parents, is a natural for that type of application.

In this case, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri actually gets it — when he vetoed the legislation in November, Carcieri noted that RFID could be help track students during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. And he’s right. After all, would you rather have an RFID tag prevent your child from getting off a bus at the wrong location, or hear yet another story about a kid who was mistakenly left on the bus unattended for several hours at the end of the bus route?

The Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU responded that tagging kids with RFID was more likely to put them in danger, since anyone with an RFID reader could obtain the identity and location of students who were carrying RFID tags.

Here’s the funny part. Most kids carry cell phones to school that allow for them to be tracked anyway. Nobody makes any noise about that.

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